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Monday, December 22, 2008

Lead Nurturing Fundamentals -- Define a Lead

Occasionally I have trouble writing blog posts because I'll start a topic and start connecting more dots and adding more layers and soon the topic is bigger than I can fit in one post.  I started feeling that way about lead nurturing, so I decided to chunk it and see if I could keep it simple that way.

I have seen plenty of advice about lead nurturing that starts with a discussion between marketing and sales defining what qualifies as a lead. But that should definitely not be the first step. Most likely it will only cause frustration for both groups.

Where you really need to start is with your business plan. What are you selling and who needs it? If you answered "Everyone" then you can probably stop talking about lead nurturing (or marketing in general) right there. But if you do have a real sense of your target market, then you're ready to get rolling. 

Point 1. -- Qualified Leads fall within the target market for your business

That may be stating the obvious. I hope that is stating the obvious. But sometimes it's best to start at the beginning. Having a high-level understanding of your market is important. The next step is to start identifying the attributes within your target market that you can quantify.  Most lead generation already captures demographic information which can be very useful.

And Sales team's have an index -- BANT criteria. Since you're going to be working on your definitions with sales, start by using their language. 

BANT criteria:
  • Budget: How much budget does your target prospect need to be viable for your offering?
  • Authority: What level of authority does a prospect need to either purchase or influence a purchase of your offering?
  • Need: Why do companies need your offering? What pain points do you alleviate?
  • Time: What is the timeline of your prospects? And how long is your sales cycle?
Once you have started laying out the variables for each criteria, assign them rankings in order from highest to lowest. It's easy to jump ahead to assigning lead scores to these variables but we aren't at that step yet. The crux of this exercise is to determine what variables for a given attribute are most important. 

Point 2. -- Identify and rank specific variables from demographics and BANT criteria within your target market that you can track and measure. 

Take the rankings and pull out your marketing personas of people that purchase your product or influence a deal. Do these personas need have the top-rank for all criteria to be qualified for sales? If not, what is the minimum threshold you feel Sales would need to accept responsibility for working with a lead?

Are you able to map more than just the top-rank to your personas? If you're not able to map lower-ranked variables, especially in Job Title, Budget and Authority, you might be missing valuable influencers in your sales cycle (but that's a tangent I'll have to close off right here).

So now it's time to do some homework.

I stated above that lead nuturing begins before you have any leads, in a real-world scenario you're already going to have a database of suspects, prospects, and customers. (YMMV depending on the state of your database.)

Mine that data. Start with your customers and do a reality check. Where do your current customers fall in terms of your personas? Are they hitting the rankings you would expect?

Similarly, look at your prospect and suspect data. Which are in your sales pipeline and which are languishing? Do the leads getting the most attention from sales match the personas and rankings you expect?

Point 3. -- Compare your existing customer base and sales pipeline to the criteria you've established for qualified leads.

Now we are ready to have a conversation with sales. Almost. 

What I should say is that you are now ready to have a conversation with Sales Management.  You want them to buy into the concept of lead nurturing so that you have an inside voice backing you up. Sales teams are notoriously resistant to marketing reaching deeper into the funnel and you may need to leverage some top-down support for a decision.

But, you are prepared. You have identified -- based on your business plan -- what your target market is. You have quantified the attributes of those prospects that best fit the personas within that target market. And you have compared this plan to your existing customers and prospects to make sure you are on the right track.

I kept this much more on track than I thought I would be able to. However, I will need to do a follow-up post on actually meeting with the sales team to create a productive plan that helps both groups succeed.

All links and additional reasources at Delicious tag: Lead+Nurturing

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